News / Asia

    S. Korean Rebellion Plot Turns Spotlight on Spy Agency

    Lee Seok-ki of the leftist Unified Progressive Party speaks before leaving the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 4, 2013.
    Lee Seok-ki of the leftist Unified Progressive Party speaks before leaving the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 4, 2013.
    Daniel Schearf
    On September 4, South Korea's parliament for the first time voted to prosecute one of its lawmakers for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government in favor of North Korea. The lawmaker and the North Koreans are denying the allegation and instead accusing South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, of fabricating it for political purposes. 
     
    Seoul's National Intelligence Service (NIS) last week arrested Lee Seok-ki and three other members of his Unified Progressive Party for treason and violating the National Security Law.
     
    The NIS alleges they plotted an armed rebellion against their own country in the event of war with North Korea.
     
    South Korean media say the group, known as the Revolutionary Organization, planned to steal weapons and attack oil and communication facilities.
     
    Korea's National Assembly, for the first time, voted to strip Lee of his parliamentary immunity, and the ruling Saenuri party of President Park Geun-hye is calling for his expulsion.
     
    North Korea's state media on Sunday rejected any link between the South Korean lawmaker and Pyongyang, describing the charges as a “farce” to spoil improving relations between the two Koreas.
     
    Paek Do-myoung, chairman of Professors for Democracy, a group advocating democratic reform through education, said the case is historic.
     
    He said there were some cases in the past related to plotting rebellion, but there has never been a case where an incumbent lawmaker was accused of plotting rebellion.  Such a case happening these days, he said, seems almost impossible.
     
    It is not the first time that Lee Seok-ki has been arrested for subversion related to North Korea.  
     
    A decade ago he was jailed for participating in an underground political party accused of having links with Pyongyang.  Lee was sentenced to two and a half years in prison but received a presidential pardon.
     
    His UPP is a small, left-wing party with only six of 298 seats in parliament.  But some of its rhetoric leads many to believe they are more than just sympathetic to North Korea.
     
    The party is one of the most outspoken advocates of removing the United States military presence from South Korea, despite the security assurance it provides against possible attacks from the North.  And even though Pyongyang routinely threatens Washington and Seoul, Lee has been quoted in South Korean media saying it is the U.S., not North Korea, creating tensions on the peninsula.
     
    However, the South Korean lawmaker denies the rebellion charges.  
     
    He said the clock of South Korea’s democracy has stopped as of today...The politics of South Korea is missing, he added, and the politics of the National Intelligence Service has begun.  He said his Unified Progressive Party will trust South Korean citizens and strongly fight to protect democracy.
     
    Lee and the UPP accuse the NIS and conservatives of leading a “witch hunt” to distract attention from a scandal over last year's presidential election. 
     
    Former director Won Sei-hoon is on trial accused of ordering NIS agents to post comments online against liberal candidates and praising conservative ruling party leader Park Geun-hye, who won the presidency.
     
    Hundreds of Koreans have gathered in recent months for candlelit protests against NIS abuses, and calling for the spy agency to be reformed.
     
    Paek Do-myoung, chairman of Professors for Democracy, a group advocating democratic reform through education, said the fact that the NIS was involved in wrongdoing or illegal activities cannot be denied. Lee’s case happened while people were pointing out the NIS’s wrongdoings.  He said the crime of plotting rebellion was applied to Lee, but he is not sure if it really is plotting rebellion.  He added that he considers it suspicious whether or not there is a case.
     
    South Korea's spy agency and conservative governments have a history of arresting and punishing left-wing opponents, sometimes in concert, under the pretense of suppressing communism and pro-Pyongyang groups.
     
    South Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee, established the 1948 National Security Law to halt the spread of communism, but also used it to arrest thousands of people, many of them student activists.
     
    The National Security law is criticized for suppressing freedom of speech and association, making it illegal to praise North Korea or contact any of its agents without permission.
     
    South Korea also blocks pro-North Korea websites and arrests distributors of propaganda, including those who re-send links through Twitter.
     
    Defenders of the harsh laws say they are necessary because of the continuing threat posed by North Korea.  
     
    Hwang Tae-soon, a political analyst at the Wisdom Center, a think tank in Seoul, said the National Security Law of South Korea is the same as the Patriot Act in the United States.  Since South Korea and North Korea stand face to face, he said, South Korea needs a special law for the crimes related to spying, rebellion and incursion.  
     
    South Korea has thwarted assassination plots by North Korean agents over the years. In more recent times, the NIS has arrested South Koreans accused of helping the North carry out cyber attacks.
     
    The NIS declined an interview request from VOA saying they are not commenting on Lee's case.
     
    South Korea's main liberal opposition, the Democratic Party, supported removing Lee's immunity.  But it also warned conservatives not to turn the case against Lee into a campaign to root out alleged communists.


    VOA Seoul bureau's Youmi Kim also contributed to this report

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora